Enjoying seasonal taste sensations
In Sweden, summertime is closely associated with sensuality and enjoyment, especially when it comes to eating. This is not so strange. Sweden is located really far up in northern Europe. Until only several decades ago, fresh food was available only during the relatively short, sunny, warm part of the year.
Photo: Henrik Trygg / www.imagebank.sweden.se
Only in summertime can you eat outside in the garden, organize a picnic or gather for a coffee party on the glassed-in veranda. Meals in spring and early summer remain a joyous tribute to Swedish first harvest produce. Cockerel, the year’s first grilled perch, rolled Baltic herring filets that turn into a dill-fragrant casserole when baked in the oven, fresh green asparagus, the first Swedish strawberries from the outdoor market. Or new potatoes boiled with dill, carried steaming hot to the table and eaten with butter … All pure enjoyment.
A culture of food storage
The Swedish culinary tradition is otherwise very much a culture of food storage. During the brief summer harvest period, people mainly gathered what they needed and saved it for future use. The long, dark period of the year was always waiting around the corner. People would have to survive then on the bounty of summer. Eating fresh berries was a fleeting luxury, since most berries were cooked into jam for winter. Eating fresh vegetables was almost wasteful, since vegetables needed to be preserved or pickled. The same was true of potatoes and other root vegetables, which were stored in an earth cellar and served as winter food. The fruits that were available in winter were considered more precious than summer apples and August pears, no matter how delicious.
Photo: Pål Allan / www.imagebank.sweden.se
Swedish bread was traditionally also baked with a long shelf life in mind. Rye bread was baked slowly into durable dark kavring loaves or dried into crispbread (knäckebröd) or rusks (skorpor) that could be stored for long periods. Fresh bread was a luxury for the few. Was it actually so nutritious? In any event, old bread was supposed to be eaten first.
Similarly, drinking fresh milk or eating fresh butter and eggs was a pleasure when it occurred. Butter and eggs were ordinarily meant to be sold. Milk was fermented or otherwise preserved with the aid of bacterial cultures, becoming various yoghurt-like soured milks (including filmjölk and stringy långfil), curdled milk (filbunke) or sour cream (gräddfil). Or else it was made into cheese.
"You take what you have"
A traditional Swedish housewife’s main source of pride was always having a well-filled pantry in preparation for winter. It was a matter of honor that no one had to leave the table hungry. Those who did not eat everything offered to them were made to feel ashamed. In the 18th century the mother of all Swedish cookbook authors, Cajsa Warg, used a motto that, for centuries, summed up the Swedish approach to cooking and enjoying food: “You take what you have.”
From a combination of severe winter climate and intensive summer light, Swedish home cooking was born. It is loaded with culinary delights. A wide variety of fresh Swedish ingredients are available — including seafood, poultry, lamb, beef, veal and wild game. Traditional methods of smoking, fermenting, salting, drying, marinating and poaching continue to create their own taste sensations. Open and cultivated landscapes extend from northern to southern Sweden, but so do deep forests. Forests and wetlands not only provide wild game but also mushrooms, lingonberries, blueberries and cloudberries. Those who spend their summers picking and drying juniper berries, bog-myrtle and various home-grown herbs have no problem at all in seasoning and varying the flavors of warm, hearty winter stews. On the contrary, Swedish home cooking is both filling and tasty.
Photo: Patrick Trägårdh / www.imagebank.sweden.se
But what about refinement? Elegance? Are there any storage methods mainly intended to create more subtle and delicate taste sensations? Well, for many years the Swedes had a habit of borrowing such luxuries from other culinary cultures, especially that of France, a country where people know the art of living in order to eat. Swedish culinary tradition is instead based on people’s need to eat in order to live. They often let their food stop them from talking.
Modern Swedish cuisine
It is thus all the more exciting that today’s young generation of Swedish chefs has scored major successes abroad with their tasty creations, which are innovative in both color and design. Modern chefs use lingonberries, cloudberries, root vegetables, Baltic herring, wild game and not least Västerbotten cheese in new ways, but they continue to be inspired by the richness of centuries-old Swedish culinary traditions. In this way, tastes inspired by the country’s vast forests, numerous lakes and long seacoast live on — both in more sophisticated settings and in everyday Swedish life. The dishes presented in this booklet are examples of well-prepared Swedish home cooking — classics that grace family tables and in some cases are also found on that world-famous Swedish buffet table known as the smörgåsbord.
Cookies, cakes, buns, pastries...
In sharp contrast to the country’s mainly needs-focused meal tradition are the pastries and desserts featured at Swedish coffee parties. Soft, sweet yeast bread made with saffron, butter, sugar, raisins and cinnamon. Almond paste filling. Seven kinds of cookies. Meringues, curd cakes, apple pies, vanilla sauces and pastries so overflowing with jam, cream and chocolate that no one has seen anything like them.
Foto: Pål Allan / www.imagebank.sweden.se
Nowadays cinnamon buns are baked all over the world, but in order to experience a genuine Swedish “cake table” the best suggestion is to travel to the countryside. There, no one lets their food stop them from talking. Year round, your hosts will insist that you sample a little of everything. The conversation flows, people sing songs together and they gorge on tasty desserts and pastries. Take an extra look at that genuine Swedish princess cake — swelling with whipped cream, sponge cake and jam, all swept inside a light green marzipan exterior, powdered with confectioner’s sugar. A pink rose crowns its top.
This is how the Swedish love of eating defies the long winter: with warm food inside, and summer colors topping the cake.
Enjoy your meal! Or as we say in Swedish: Smaklig måltid!
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Carl Jan Granqvist is innkeeper emeritus of Grythyttan Inn (Grythyttans Gästgivaregård) in Bergslagen, a former mining district of central Sweden. He was the initiator of the Department of Restaurant and Culinary Arts (the
Restaurant Academy for short), Örebro University. He holds an honorary doctorate in gastronomy and is professor of culinary arts at the University of Stavanger, Norway.
Lena Katarina Swanberg has had a long career as a reporter, but today she is more of an author than a journalist. She has written more than twenty books, several of them dealing with Swedish food.
The dishes were prepared at the Nordic House of Culinary Art (Måltidens Hus i Norden), which houses the Restaurant Academy/Örebro University, a worldclass cookbook library, a gastronomic theater and more. The Nordic House of Culinary Art is located in Grythyttan, which has become an important food and culinary center.
The authors alone are responsible for the opinions expressed in this web version.
Translation: Victor Kayfetz
© Photo 1: Photo: Henrik Trygg/ www.imagebank.sweden.se
© Photo 2: Pål Allan / www.imagebank.sweden.se
© Photo 3: Patrick Trägårdh / www.imagebank.sweden.se
© Photo 4: Pål Allan / www.imagebank.sweden.se
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